When the sun sets in Dubai, the sand turns a fiery gold color. Many locals call this daily event their "desert gold." The Martini-Callaway Corvette team experienced its own desert-gold moment when it captured the 2008 FIA GT3 Drivers Championship at the end of the Dubai event's first race. Under the guidance of team manager Ernst Woehr, the team amassed championship points throughout the season by consistently finishing near the top of the field. Callaway's first win of was at the season's eighth event in Nogaro, France. This put the team eight points ahead of the Matech Ford GT and Hexis Racing Aston Martin crews going into the last race in Dubai.
Immediately after the Nogaro win, the team returned to its Leingarten, Germany, headquarters and began the long task of loading a shipping container for Dubai. An advance group arrived early at Dubai's Motor City Autodome to unload the container and get the cars ready for qualifying. The rest of the team arrived on Wednesday in time for Thursday's practice session.
The No. 1 Z06.R of Arnaud Peyrolles and James Ruffier was second fastest in practice, while the No. 2 Meir/Bert Corvette was fourth quickest. In GT3, the FIA pairs drivers based on their experience, using ratings of bronze, silver, and gold to denote each driver's experience level. (Peyrolles is rated bronze, while the veteran Ruffier is gold.) As a result, it's not unusual to see a big gap between drivers' lap times. For example, during the first qualifying session on Friday, Peyrolles qualified eighth with a time of 2:03.841. In session two, Ruffier qualified first with a time of 2:00.932.
When the green flag fell on Race One, Friday afternoon, Peyrolles used his Corvette's mighty LS7 to power past five cars in front of him. He exited the first turn in third place, behind one of the Ford GTs and the leading Aston Martin. Soon after, he was challenged by a Ferrari 430, which he allowed to pass in order to preserve his car. Several laps later the Ferrari expired, and Peyrolles retook third.
On lap 11 the pit-stop window opened, and Peyrolles made a perfect stop to change places with Ruffier. Ruffier returned to the race in 14th position but kept moving up as other cars made their mandatory stops. With 20 minutes remaining, Ruffier was five seconds behind the second-place No. 21 Ford GT and nine seconds behind the leading No. 8 Aston. On lap 20 he managed to outbrake the Ford and sweep past to take second. Ruffier now set his sights on the leading Aston.
On lap 24 Ruffier made another clean pass at the end of the long pit straight with 10:57 remaining on the clock. If he could maintain his position, he would earn enough points to secure the championship without starting the next race. He did just that, taking the checkered flag 5.015 seconds ahead of the Aston on lap 27. Ruffier and Peyrolles finished the race with 54 championship points, while the runner-up Aston team had 43. An overall race win is good for 10 points, so the No. 1 Martini-Callaway team-by now too far ahead to be caught-was declared the 2008 championship winner.
Woehr and company were understandably elated. This small private team had pulled off a real David-vs.-Goliath victory by using a recycled, crashed Z06 to beat 11 of the world's top sports-car manufacturers. It was a huge victory for Callaway Competition, its drivers, and the team's hardworking crew.
"My aim was to run a consistent, steady first stint with no mistakes and hand the car over to James in a good position," Peyrolles told us after the race. "When opportunities arose I took them. I'm really happy to have won the championship."
"The car has been just amazing, right from the beginning of the weekend," added Ruffier. "Arnaud did a great job in qualifying, and then he drove an excellent first stint. We won this race because of the places he gained at the start. When I took over the car, I had time [to get] past the cars in front safely.
"The Martini-Callaway team has done an incredible job," he continued. "We could have won races earlier in the season, but we had problems and incidents that no one noticed. It will be good not to have to worry about the fight tomorrow, especially with [three other teams] fighting over Second Place. So perhaps we'll just watch it from the pit lane!"
He wouldn't get the chance. In Dubai it only rains an average of seven days a year. Friday proved to be one of those days, and the track was flooded in the overnight downpour. The race on Saturday was cancelled, so the Martini-Callaway team spent the extra time touring Dubai, a day trip that culminated with a desert safari. As the sun sank toward the horizon, the team lined up on a sand dune to experience a true "desert gold" Dubai sunset. It was a fitting end to a long and grueling GT3 season.
Dubai is the fastest-growing city in the United Arab Emirates and is located 96 miles from the capital in Abu Dhabi. Connecting the two cities is an expansive four-lane highway that's designed for high-speed driving. Unfortunately, the desert winds often blow large amounts of sand across the road surface. These conditions-paired with the locals' penchant for "enthusiastic" driving-result in frequent serious accidents. Dubai Civil Defence, or DCD, provides emergency services for these incidents, but DCD only has eight stations to serve Dubai's 1.5 million residents.
In July 2008, Brigadier Rashid Thani Al Matroushi, Director of DCD, developed an innovative solution to improving first-responder times. A team of four DCD techs converted an '07 automatic C6 coupe into a unique emergency vehicle. The customized Corvette can get to fires and accidents quickly, allowing its crew to deploy a battery of firefighting systems and rescue equipment.
Modifications to the car include a fireproof bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartments. Large bottles of foam and water fit into special racks in the cargo bay, along with assorted safety gear. Steel push bumpers mounted on the front and rear allow the Vette to remove disabled vehicles from the road. The DCD says the Corvette has saved many lives by speeding basic medical care to crash victims long before the arrival of an ambulance.
We had an opportunity to inspect this unusual Corvette at the Dubai GT3 race, where it served as a safety vehicle. This is certainly one of the more unusual applications we've seen for our favorite sports car, but it's turned out to be an effective life-saving tool for the people of Dubai.